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Gwen Bergner

Professor, Harriet E. Lyon Professor of Women's and Gender Studies

Curriculum Vitae

My research and teaching focus on the intersections of race and gender in American and transnational contexts. I teach courses in African American, Women’s, Caribbean, Multiethnic, and Postcolonial literatures and cultural studies; film studies; and critical race theory.  I’ve led three groups of students on global service-learning courses to Jamaica and Trinidad and have presented research on how to make such courses more accessible for underrepresented students. I aim to help students discover how they can contribute to their communities and national conversations on race, gender, sex, human rights, and social justice.

My most recent essay considers Douglas Sirk's Hollywood melodrama,  Imitation of Life (1956), in relation to nineteenth-century traditions of racial melodrama to trace how US labor practices worked with discursive systems such as the movies to make the "black maid" ubiquitous and the modifier unnecessary. In other words, the film, like mid-century culture, reduces black women to the function of maid. However, I argue, the black women characters appropriate the film's melodramatic sentimentality and invert the film noir style and femme fatale stereotype--previously unrecognized aspects of the film that are used to neutralize the radical potential of the racial passing plot--to assert personhood apart from their prescribed identities as maids.

A review of two recent books on post-blackness and contemporary representations of slavery is forthcoming in  African American Review.

  • Race and Black Studies
  • Postcolonial and Caribbean Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • American Studies
  • Film and Visual Studies

Selected Publications:

  • Taboo Subjects: Race, Sex, and Psychoanalysis. University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
Journal - Special Issue:
  • The Plantation, the Post-Plantation, and the Afterlives of Slavery, special issue of American Literature, co-editor with Zita Nunes, vol. 91, no. 3, 2019.
  • "Rape Culture and the Zombie Apocalypse: Richard Matheson's  I Am Legend,Modern Fiction Studies (forthcoming).
  • “Performing Work: Maids, Melodrama, and  Imitation of Life as Film Noir.”  Signs: Journal of Women, Culture, and Society. vol. 47, no. 2, 2022, pp. 425-449. 
  • Lòt bò dlo and the Spatial Relations of Dyaspora.” Narrating History, Home, and Nation: Critical Essays on Edwidge Danticat, edited by Maia Butler, Megan Feifer, and Joanna Davis-McElligatt, University Press of Mississippi, under contract.
  • Introduction. The Plantation, the Post-Plantation, and the Afterlives of Slavery, special issue of American Literature, vol. 91, no. 3, 2019, pp. 447-457. 
  • “Danticat’s Vodou Vernacular of Women’s Human Rights.”  American Literary History, vol. 29, no. 3, 2017, pp. 521-545. 
  • “Zoning in on the American Tropics.”  American Literary History, vol. 27, no. 4, 2015, pp. 831-842.
  •   “Veiled Motives: Women’s Liberation and the War in Afghanistan.”  Globalizing Afghanistan: Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building, edited by David Jefferess and Zubeda Jalalzai, Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 95-116.
  • “Black Children, White Preference: Brown v. Board, the Doll Tests, and the Politics of Self-Esteem.”  American Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 2, 2009, pp. 299-332.
  • “Politics and Pathologies,”  Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives, edited by Anthony Allessandrini, Routledge, 1999, pp. 219-234.
  • “Myths of the Masculine Subject: Freud’s Oedipus Complex and Douglass’s 1845 Narrative,”  The Psychoanalysis of Race, edited by Christopher Lane, Columbia University Press, 1998, pp. 241-260.
  • “Uncanny Women and Anxious Masters: Reading Coppelia Against Freud,” with Nicole Plett. Moving Words: Re-writing Dance, edited by Gay Morris, Routledge, 1996, pp. 159-179.
  • “Who is that Masked Women? Or, the Role of Gender in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks,”  PMLA, vol. 110, no. 1, 1995, pp. 75-88.